When Del. Mark Keam (D-35th) first ran for office four years ago, he said the two issues almost exclusively on voters' minds were transportation and education.
Four years later, as he hosted a town hall Saturday in Vienna with fellow legislator Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34th), the issues haven’t changed, he said.
And while Keam was optimistic he and Petersen would see some progress through bills they’ve introduced this year, both Keam and Petersen said they anticipate “a fight” with certain parts of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation and education plans, which the governor unveiled last week as the General Assembly began its 45-day session.
Petersen has introduced his own plan in response to McDonell’s transportation overhaul, which would make Virginia the first state in the country to eliminate its gas tax and raise its sales tax to 5.8 percent.
It would also, among other things, transfer a portion of sales tax revenue from the state’s general fund to transportation.
A bill by Petersen — who said he had “a philosophical difference [with the governor] on how we want to raise money for transportation” — would keep the gas tax in tact, raising it by 10 cents and also indexing it to fuel efficiency based on figures from the Federal Highway Administration.
It would also attempt to shift the balance of the Commonwealth Transportation Board more in favor of Northern Virginia, which Petersen called the “economic engine of the state,” by increasing the number of members from 17 to 23, so four members represent Northern Virginia, three members represent Hampton Roads, two represent Richmond and one represent each of the remaining areas of the state.
Petersen said it didn’t make sense to raise sales tax — a general tax on all residents, may of whom do not use roads — while many out of state residents passing through Virginia use the state's highways for free.
“I don’t think people buying and selling merchandise ought to pay a higher tax based on this out of state stress placed on our highways,” Petersen said. “If you’re going to let those people use our highways for free meanwhile you raise taxes on ordinary Virginians, that’s a mistake.”
Keam also fielded questions about his bill HB2131, which “modifies and clarifies the special real property taxes that Fairfax County may impose in a service district to pay for the costs of the additional improvements and services provided in the district” — essentially, protecting residents from the newly-formed Tysons tax district.
Residents at the meeting asked how the state would help localities maintain the area's already overloaded roads — namely, Route 123.
“It’s a nightmare now and it’s going to be a nightmare when Tysons gets here,” said Walter Basnight, who sits on the Town of Vienna’s planning commission. “We need to do something … and we need some support from the state as well.”
Keam's HB2141 would increase the amount of transportation maintenance funds used to maintain highly used roads, he said.
Keam, who sits on the House education committee, said he liked some parts of McDonnell’s plans for education, but disagreed with others.
“I’m all for reform if the change is going to improve the system,” Keam said, going on to say he didn’t think all of the governor’s proposals accomplished that.
- On a constitutional amendment that would give the state Board of Education power to authorize charter applicants, and rid of a requirement that local school boards must apply for charter school application authorization from the state Board of Education: He supported state review, saying [charter schools should be] meeting a gap, not substituting or replacing an existing system.”
- On grading schools A through F: ”I don’t think we need to be stigmatizing schools children go to,” Keam said, adding, “I'd like to see some off-ramps that get some Fs.”
- On extending the time it take for teachers to earn continuing contracts – Virginia’s version of tenure clauses that exist in other states– to five years instead of the current three: “[The idea is to] find a way to get rid of the teachers that are not performing at their levels … What determines whether a teacher is good or not? You're talking about not just performance but also about firing somebody that has a job and in this economy that’s a very sensitive thing to say.”
He noted to get rid of teachers who aren’t performing “we have a pretty robust hearing process already,” in which teachers are allowed to challenge complaints that lead to their removal. McDonnell is proposing to replace that process with one person to gather evidence, Keam said. “ I thought it was taking away constitutional and civil procedure rights," Keam said. “I just think that with teachers we have to treat their contract a little more respectfully.”
Patch will run videos and updates about other issues – including Medicaid, women’s health issues, the Northern Virginia Training Center, voting rights and gun control and school safety – over the next few days. Check back for links to those stories.
For video recaps of the legislator’s statements on transportation and education, click the media player to the right of this article.